By Doug Hallett
Community theatre fans, and perhaps even fans of the sort of award-winner guessing that accompanies the Oscars, have a treat coming up next month.
For the first time since 1998, Guelph Little Theatre is hosting the Western Ontario Drama League Festival. It will bring five top-rated community theatre productions to the city from March 11 to 15 – followed by a gala awards dinner at the Guelph Holiday Inn on Saturday March 16.
People who take in all five shows can make their own calls on best production, best actor and numerous other awards categories. Then when the awards are announced they can, like on Academy Awards night, find out “how did I do compared with the adjudicator?” GLT president Ron Loncke says with a grin.
“Patrons are going to see good shows, they are going to see variety,” says Loncke, who is co-chairing the festival along with local theatre stalwart Dennis Johnson. The two men are being aided by a committee of about 20 local volunteers in bringing the 80-year-old festival to Guelph for the seventh time since 1962.
Five-play packages and individual tickets are already for sale, but the plays to be staged won’t be known until Feb. 17. That’s the day preliminary adjudicator Ross Stuart, who has been viewing productions at community theatres throughout the Western Ontario Drama League area, will announce his five picks. They’ll be staged – one play each night – at the WODL festival in Guelph, and the one picked as best production will move on to the Theatre Ontario festival in May in Kingston to compete against other regional winners.
A different professional adjudicator, Beatrix Quarrie, will judge the five plays at the WODL festival in Guelph and will announce award winners at the Saturday night gala.
Last year, GLT’s production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile won the best production award at the WODL festival in Sarnia and moved on to the provincial showcase.
This year, GLT is among several WODL theatre groups that have opted to have a production adjudicated by Stuart for “out of festival” awards, rather than for a spot in the festival in Guelph. The GLT entry is its current production of Doubt: A Parable, which runs to Feb. 9. It’s traditional for the host city not to vie for a spot in the festival, to avoid any appearance of hometown advantage, Loncke said Tuesday.
Envy of many
“It takes a lot of commitment, time and resources” to put on the festival, he said in an interview, and some of WODL’s 30 theatrical members never get the chance. Some just don’t have big enough or well-equipped enough facilities, but GLT does.
The GLT theatre is one of the biggest in the region, which stretches from Burlington to Windsor to Owen Sound.
“We are the envy of a lot of community theatres because of the facility that we have,” although being so big it’s expensive to operate, Loncke said.
GLT has spent $100,000, including a $50,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, making its theatre even better in preparation for the festival.
The renovation work, which was done in time for the start of the current GLT season, included replacing the theatre’s 288 old seats with 250 new ones that are bigger and built for comfort. “The seats we chose are wider than average and a little bit taller than most seats, and they are more comfortable than most,” Loncke said.
The old seats, which were already 60 years old when a community theatre in Owen Sound donated them to GLT when it bought its own new seats, have been passed on to a fledgling theatre group in Port Burwell, Ont.
GLT is fundraising for its $50,000 share of the cost of the renovations, and one of the ways it’s doing this is by selling name plaques on its new seats for $200 each.
The renovations also included upgrading the previously bare concrete floors, adding designated wheelchair seating, sending acoustic curtains away to be given new flame-proofing treatments, refinishing the back wall, rebuilding the front of the stage and upgrading the catwalks that hold lighting and sound equipment.
GLT will get 60 per cent of any profits from next month’s festival, with the drama league getting the rest, Loncke said.
In for a treat
The festival is “an opportunity for community theatre groups to come together, learn from each other, showcase their productions and earn recognition for their efforts,” he said. “And with five shows over five evenings, right here in Guelph, I’m sure our local audiences are in for a treat.”
Each show ticket includes the performance, a brief public adjudication and admission to the after-show reception at the theatre. In addition to the five performances, ticket holders can also attend workshops and presentations by guest artists.
For tickets, visit guelphlittletheatre.com or phone the GLT box office at 519-821-0270.